DOI: 10.1525/ncl.2023.78.3.211 ISSN: 0891-9356

Beatrice Cenci’s Ghost

Mattias Pirholt
  • Literature and Literary Theory

Mattias Pirholt, “Beatrice Cenci’s Ghost: Ekphrasis, Spectrality, and the Art of Copying in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun” (pp. 211–233)

This article investigates the spectrality of ekphrases and art reproductions, the haunting presence of the original work’s aura and the copyist’s self-sacrifice. Focusing on the ekphrastic description of the Baroque painting Beatrice Cenci (1599), earlier attributed to Guido Reni, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860), the article argues that the ekphrastic representation of the copy of the painting embodies the dialectic of enargeia and ekplexis, that is, of the vivifying presence-making of the ekphrasis and its sublime and disturbing absence. In The Marble Faun, the aura of Guido’s original painting haunts the copy, made by one of the romance’s female protagonists, Hilda, whose art is both creative and imitative. The copy retains the aura of the original but only in the shape of a haunting presence of absence, a ghost, which perpetuates rather than eliminates tradition. Thus, as a paradoxically original imitation of Guido’s masterpiece, Hilda’s uniquely beautiful copy, whose most salient feature is that is it visibly different from the original, creates an Emersonian unity of beauty and usefulness. Furthermore, the copy is haunted by the copyist’s necessary sacrifice of her own individual talent as an artist. The copyist must submit to the genius of the original artist in order to perpetuate the original work’s aura, which produces tradition by means of copying and which exists only thanks to the copyist’s self-sacrifice.